- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 29, 2004

A group seeking to build a $500 million gambling and entertainment complex along New York Avenue in Northeast can collect signatures so the measure can be added to the November ballot, a D.C. Superior Court judge ruled yesterday.

Judge James E. Boasberg made minor changes to how the initiative will be described on the petition, but rejected arguments it should not be on the ballot.

“It’s not my place to say whether I believe this initiative will benefit the city or whether it will be detrimental,” he said. “That decision is now in the hands of the voters.”

Judge Boasberg said the words “video-lottery terminals” must be followed by the clause “very similar to slot machines.” And he ordered the removal of a statement in which the group recommends some of the city’s revenue go toward funding public education and prescription drugs for the elderly.

Proponents agreed to drop “District of Columbia” from the title of the initiative, which is now called the Video Lottery Terminal Initiative of 2004.

Judge Boasberg also rejected a request to delay issuing the petitions until the decision is appealed.

“I’m very happy,” said John Ray, a former D.C. Council member and lawyer representing the group. “This thing never should have been in court, but it was there, and I think we made our case and the judge made the right ruling.”

The petitions are scheduled to be issued at a public meeting of the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics at 2 p.m. tomorrow. The group will have until Tuesday to gather signatures from 17,500 persons, or 5 percent of registered D.C. voters.

Mr. Ray said 80 to 100 petitioners will be on the streets collecting signatures and that he is confident the deadline can be met.

“Assuming that the weather holds up and we don’t run into a lot of rain, yes, we can do it,” he said.

Ann Walker Marchant, a spokeswoman for the group supporting the measure, acknowledged that companies have been hired to collect the signatures, but could not say how much the effort will cost or how much the petition gatherers will earn.

Mrs. Walker Marchant was a spokeswoman for Mayor Anthony A. Williams’ 2002 re-election campaign.

Petition circulators were paid $1 per signature to put Mr. Williams’ name on the Democratic primary ballot during that campaign. Thousands of signatures were found to be forgeries, and Mr. Williams was forced to run as a write-in candidate.

Dorothy Brizill , who runs thegovernment watchdog Web site DCWatch and argued Monday on behalf of the plaintiffs, doubted enough valid signatures could be collected by the deadline.

“As a person who has been out there gathering signatures myself, as well as a person who has reviewed petitions that have been submitted, I don’t think it’s doable,” Mrs. Brizill said.

“We will be spreading the gospel … ‘Just don’t sign,’” she said. “If they make it to the November ballot, and there is a campaign, we will tell people, ‘Just say no to slots in the District of Columbia.’”

Even if voters approve the measure, it would still face obstacles. The D.C. Council could vote to invalidate it or it could be overturned by Congress.

According to the text of the initiative, the group wants voter approval for a 14-acre facility, called the Capital Horizon Entertainment Complex, with 3,500 video-lottery terminals on New York Avenue NE, between Montana Avenue and Bladensburg Road.

The project would also include a 600- to 800-room hotel, a conference center, a bowling alley, a movie theater and retail shops.

Local businessman Pedro Alfonso, who is the chief executive of the D.C.-based telecommunications firm Dynamic Concepts, is among those seeking to build the complex. Mr. Ray said the principal investor and the person bankrolling the initiative is businessman Rob Newell, an Idahoan who lives in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

A fact sheet distributed by a group calling itself the Lottery Expansion Initiative Committee estimated the complex would generate $765 million annually.

Under the proposal, 25 percent, or about $190 million, of the profits from the video-lottery terminals would be earmarked for the District.

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